More university students in Singapore keen on start-ups

12 Jul 2021

Straits Times, 12 Jul 2021, More university students in Singapore keen on start-ups
University students are taking a shine to start-ups, with more joining entrepreneurship and venture capital programmes.

An Enterprise Singapore spokesman said that as at end June, over 680 people have taken part in its venture building programme which trains aspiring entrepreneurs with no business experience to launch their start-up.

Twenty per cent of the participants in the programme, introduced last August, are fresh graduates.

Aspiring entrepreneur Yeo Rae-Nyse, 23, for instance, started a company in 2019, while she was a a final-year business student at the National University of Singapore (NUS), to solve a problem she herself faced - finding the right job.

Her start-up, MatcHub, is a talent portal matching students looking for jobs to companies based on their personalities, skills and experience.

Ms Yeo said: "I wanted to solve this problem that so many of my peers experienced. The positive feedback we received pushed me on and on to make an impact with MatcHub."

More young people such as Ms Yeo have expressed an interest in launching or working at a start-up, which could have strong potential for growth.

For instance, travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic have not dampened interest in the NUS Overseas College (NOC) programme, which counts the co-founders of e-commerce firms Carousell and Shopback as among its alumni.

The NOC programme typically involved spending up to a year in cities such as Shanghai and New York, where students could take classes in entrepreneurship or intern at start-ups.

Even without the possibility of travel since last year, the programme's take-up rate is about 70 per cent of pre-Covid-19 figures, said Professor Chee Yeow Meng, associate vice president of innovation and enterprise at NUS.

Student clubs with a focus on venture capital and angel investing, both of which are sources of funding for start-ups to scale, are buzzing with applications to join.

NUS Alumni Ventures said there are eight times as many students vying for investment analyst roles within the organisation as they have vacancies. Founded last year, it is South-east Asia's first student-run angel investment network, with 78 angel investors.

The Singapore Management University (SMU) said that Protege Ventures, its student-run venture fund and programme, saw a 60 per cent increase in applications last year over 2019.

Universities have also pumped in more resources for students to learn about or build their start-ups.

The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) has added two more incubation centres on campus over the past year.

SUTD said that the incubation centres which span 750 sq m in total, give students access to co-working space, meeting rooms and maker spaces.

NUS Business School Professor Wong Poh Kam noted that with such resources available, the biggest challenge young entrepreneurs face is not starting up, but expanding internationally.

The strategy and policy professor said: "Scaling up often means being able to hire key people who have prior experience in leading and managing growth.

"I would encourage young entrepreneurs to seek out experienced entrepreneurs for advice, and to be prepared to bring some of these professionals with scale-up experience into their team."

Mr Durwin Ho, chief executive of innovation consultancy StartupX which works closely with angel investors and venture capital firms advised young founders to find a problem worth solving and a co-founder who they can rely on.

He added: "For early-stage start-ups, angel investors are not exactly focusing on the financials but how well the team understands the problem they want to solve and how they work together."